Say literature festival and what comes to mind is books, panel discussions with some celebrated authors held either in large open lawns or closed auditoriums. But, in what can be called a first, Mumbai witnessed a literature festival on sea! Sailing on the coastlines of the Gateway of India, the Queensline Literature festival aboard the Sea Yah was the perfect destination for intellectual discourses with the Mumbai skyline making a wonderful backdrop. Brainchild of Shripriya Dalmia Thirani, the owner of the Queensline Neverland and Queensline Sea YAH (ships which have been converted into floating restaurants) saw some of the best minds from the literary world speaking about books and more. Sharing her views on organising a literature festival on sea, Shripriya said, “Mumbai has still not explored its vast coastline and the beautiful view that it has to offer. And when I decided to get into this project (starting Queensline) my promise to the city was that I will make this venue of cultural and food show. Because it cannot be just a restaurant or a banquet hall, or just a party place. I wanted it to be a place of food and cultural exchanges. And that is how the idea of the lit fest took birth.”
Seconding Shrirpriya, Kounteya Sinha, the festival director, said, “Art, literature and culture are in Mumbai’s DNA, and when this is combined with Mumbai’s silhouetted skyline it makes for a perfect concoction where great minds come together and conduct debates or discourses on various topics. We want to convert Queensline into a deck of cultural exchanges. We want Mumbai to know that there is a place in the middle of the sea where people can meet and talk about art, cinema, books, music and more.”
The festival was inaugurated by Barrister, Former First Lady of UK and President of Loomba Foundation Cherie Blair. The first day saw Cherie Blair, along with Lord Raj Loomba, the founder of the Loomba Foundation and actress Nandita Das in a panel discussion on ‘India’s Forgotten Women – Widows’, which was moderated by festival director and journalist Kounteya Sinha. Speaking about widows and their problems, Cherie said, “Problem of poverty in widowhood is a reality and it needs to be tackled. When I got associated with the cause I wasn’t aware about the cultural nuisances in India and its treatment of widows. There is a lot of stigmas attached to widowhood and that needs to be changed. Women should have a rightful place as equals partners in society.”
Speaking about gender inequality and the problems women face, Nandita Das said, “India is not just a land of diversity, but also of paradoxes. On one hand, we worship Goddesses, we have women running states, offices, becoming pilots; yet, we as a country have large instances of female foeticide. And we usually tend to associate crimes against women with illiteracy, but we have gender discrimination and dowry even in educated families.”
Speaking further about gender equality, Nandita said, “It’s not a man versus woman fight. It’s about patriarchy. And if equality is a fundamental right, then all men and women must fight together and not just women alone.”
Day two sees us back aboard the Sea Yah, the tastefully designed interiors giving proper luxury yacht feels. Padmashree awardee Raghu Rai in discussion with journalist and photographer, Kounteya Sinha, kept the audience entertained with his tales of interactions with personalities like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. He also went on to explain his theory of why God doesn’t exist and kept the audience interaction high. “My faith lies in the pictures I have clicked over the years because that is something that physically existed for me,” Rai declared, adding “one must train their mind, body and soul for everything to be perfect.”
The venue demands inspection and we discover that the upper deck is the most picturesque—in fact, it looks right out of a movie. The Sea Yah gives you the feeling of being really far away from town while still being in the heart of the city and seems like a perfect alternative for a nice meal to the oh-so-common 5-star hotels of the city.
The last day saw Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala speaks about her book ‘Healed– How cancer gave me a new life’. “It is during the painful times that you truly understand the value of life, your inner strength and your character and true friendships,” Manisha said. The festival also saw veteran actress Jaya Prada and veteran filmmaker Sanjay Khan gracing the festival with their presence.
Sea Yah next year!